Palm Springs Law Blog

Monday, August 20, 2012

Financial Problems? Points to Ponder...

When you lose a job, become injured or ill, lose a partner or spouse, or suffer any other blow to your finances, things can quickly go from bad to worse. Credit problems can really destroy your life.  Here are a few of the things that you may face:

Liens and Garnishment – If you owe money to a creditor and don’t repay it according to the terms of your agreement, the creditor may go to court and put a lien on your property; or may attach a portion of your earned income. A lien on property must be paid off when you sell the property. Garnished wages are deducted from every paycheck you receive, until the debt is repaid. Creditors are permitted to take up to 25% of each paycheck.

To garnish wages, the creditor must file an action in court, and the court issues you a summons to come to a hearing. You have an opportunity to explain why the debt is not paid, and whether you might be able to pay it soon. If you don’t attend the hearing, it is almost certain that the court will grant the creditor’s request, and the sheriff will be instructed to garnish your wages. The sheriff notifies your employer’s payroll department to start withholding money from your check, usually beginning with the next pay period.

It amazes me that so many people ignore a summons for a court hearing, and then rush in a panic to find an attorney when they receive a garnishment notice. It is often too late to do anything to prevent the garnishment once the sheriff’s notice has gone to your employer. Sometimes, if a person has severe financial problems, filing bankruptcy will stop the garnishment  -  but it takes time to file a petition. It can’t be done overnight. Most garnishment notices are received just a few days before the garnishment starts.

Cancelled or Forgiven Debts  -  Your credit card and other debts may have been written off by lenders, but you may still be on the hook because the amounts are considered taxable income to you. Creditors will send you an IRS Form 1099-C, showing the taxable amounts, and they also send a copy to the IRS, which will compare it to the tax return you file. You may not owe taxes on the amounts if you filed bankruptcy and those debts were discharged. If you did not file for bankruptcy, but your debts exceeded your assets when the debt was forgiven, some or all of it could be exempt from taxes. You must list all debts and all assets for the IRS on the appropriate forms.

Poor Credit Can Affect Employability  -  Some employers are now checking the credit of prospective employees, and passing over those with a prior bankruptcy or poor credit scores. These employers state that they believe poor credit shows a lack of responsibility. More and more states (including California) have now passed laws to restrict this practice, but often with exemptions for employees responsible for handling large amounts of cash. There are many good reasons for bankruptcy or poor credit scores, and financial problems are not necessarily a predictor of an employee’s ability to do the job.

Reverse Mortgages Can Lead to Foreclosures  -  A reverse mortgage loan allows older homeowners to convert the equity in their property into cash. This loan, the fees, and the interest on the loan do not have to be repaid until the house is sold. If any equity remains from the sale, it would pass on to you or your heirs.

But these loans can be risky. What happens if you use up the loan proceeds, and your remaining income is reduced because of medical problems, or your savings or investments run out? It is likely that you can no longer afford to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, and if you fail to pay these, you will be in default on your loan. The lender can foreclose on your home. Instead of saving your home, you could be losing it after all.

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